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Pupils I'll never forget

Val McDonald remembers a troubled and troubling girl who came alive on stage

Back in the 1970s as a probationary teacher (NQTs had not yet been born), I found my first job in a high school in London's E17.I was just a few years older than some of the students, but in terms of life experience I was light years behind them.

Maisie Dekker, for instance, had been in care from an early age. She was sullen and obstinate, and never allowed a smile to cross her face. Her look was intimidating and her manner objectionable. She was popular but only because her gang ruled the roost.

Maisie knew just how far to push teachers. She stopped short of being abusive but she could spoil lessons with her argumentative ways. Although I did not teach her, I knew her well by reputation; hardly a day passed without some member of staff screeching into the staffroom crying: "That Maisie Dekker!"

At Christmas another probationary teacher, who was a gifted and enthusiastic writer, decided to script a pantomime and enlisted my help. We chose to include a variety of musical numbers and auditioned for possible performers. Maisie turned up. How could we dare not to pick her? When her turn to sing Diana Ross's number "Baby Love" arrived, her voice, which proved as formidable as her glare, left the others with nul points. She was amazing and we made sure she knew it.

Over the coming weeks, Maisie and her two backing singers worked hard on their performance, which included a dance routine. They discussed, experimented, negotiated and perfected their moves, then got to work on costumes - all in their own time and with minimal input from me.

On the day, they were sensational and the audience was blown away. As Maisie took her bow, an unbelievably broad beam lit up her face and she allowed us all to see a different character. Emotional literacy was alive in the 1970s - it just hadn't been christened.

Val McDonald left E17 and went to Greece to teach for several years. She is now a modern foreign languages teacher in the north west. Do you have special memories of unforgettable pupils? Write to Sarah Bayliss at the address on page 3 or email

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